The next day we checked out the market in the main square before heading out for an early loop around the Gorge du Verdon. The loop around the Gorge breaks out into numerous spectacular viewpoints. It never ceases to surprise you with the turns, the scenery, the flow of the roads. Being mid week we found very little traffic but speaking to some locals, on the weekends the place is full of sportbikes. Castellane is famous for being the base for exploring the incredible roads in the area. Some of which are rated as the best motorcycle roads in Europe.
We had to start moving home to get Suzi back in time for work so we headed back through the Col d’Allos (2250m). This then dropped us back into the Ubaye valley and Barcelonnete.
The weather forecast up north was for severe thunderstorms which we soon ran into. Large hail and howling winds meant we decided to find a way around it, luckily in the alps, finding a route around something is as simple as turning left or right. The route we took wound up the Col de Montgenevere (1850m) through the resort of Cesana Turinese one of the sites for the 2006 Winter Olympics) and down into the Italian alps. We then finished the day with a final high pass of and a drop back into the Lanslebourg in Val Cenis.
It is quite an experience going over a high pass in a full blown storm. We were the only bikes out, and even the trucks who had been forced over the pass due to the tunnel closure had pulled over to wait it out. Cold and miserable would be an accurate description, and we were glad to see the end of the day and the descent into the valley just as night fell.
Next morning…clear and warm as we retraced our steps back the Col D’Iseran, Val d’Isere, Col du Petit St. Bernard into Italy. It is a surreal experience to be on a road bike riding along at over 9000 ft with wildflowers up to your handlebars, at 120 kph.
We wanted to ride the Col du Forclaz out of Chamonix which meant a detour through the Mont Blanc Tunnel which is always a bit of a bore, so to speak, at12.1kms long. By the end it was “nice” to get out of the stale air.
Oh, and if you pass through Chamonix winter or summer be sure to visit the MBC brew pub. It is owned by a couple of Canucks and has become the toast of the valley for the beer and Canadian hospitality and attitude.
We then rode around the Mont Blanc massif, which always hurts your neck as you strain to look up over 13000 ft of relief… perhaps the largest immediate relief outside of the Himalaya.
The descent from the Col du Forclaz down to Martigny an the Valais drops about 5000 ft. through vineyards. Now it was time for the final act, the grande finale.
Here I rode off by myself to just enjoy the last few hours of an amazing trip, to stretch the legs of the Super Duke, and get in a fast pace rthym retracing our route along the Valais with a whipping tail wind to the base of the Furka pass at the eastern end of the valley. Rising higher and higher through the gorge at the bottom of the valley was magic. The KTM has proven to be a perfect companion on this trip. Sure the tank range under fast riding saw the reserve light come on as early as 80kms and other times as late as 150 kms (clearly it isn’t very accurate). But, stopping regularly for gas is a small price to pay for the grin factor this bike provided.
The last two passes were the famous Grimsel and Susten. Michael and I headed off while the storm that had been in the high passes was clearing. It was the end of the day around 6 pm so traffic was very light and the roads were dry. Clouds were scudding through the high peaks as the colours really came to life. The rain all night and in the morning had been very heavy so the there were waterfalls everywhere. Some fell down over 2000 feet from cliff to cliff. And in the middle of all this was a ribbon winding through the cliffs, alpine flowers, lakes and meadows.
I swear I could have stayed and rode around and around in a circle that is the Grimsel, Susten and Furka passes. They form perhaps the most perfect motorcycle loop in creation and you could get lost just riding around and around, looking ahead to the next perfect corner and the next perfect view.
So if you every find yourself on a business trip or a vacation somewhere in Switzerland or central Europe. Plan to take one day…two days…whatever, and rent a Super Duke, a Super Motard, a CBR 600RR, a Ducati 999…pick your poison for one of the truly great motorcycling experiences that can be done. Personally, I can’t wait to go again.
If you go….
- Not for beginners – at least not some of the passes unless they are very confident riders. The cost of a mistake is too high and they won’t enjoy themselves anyways. Stick to the more tame valley routes.
- Take the right gear – weather up high changes really fast and a detour may not be possible. One piece rain suits work great because they keep a lot of heat in as well. Grip heaters would have been nice. 32 degrees in the valley and frozen on top!!
- Don’t rent the giant superbike – too much speed that you cannot use and not nimble enough to really have fun. Cruisers are OK but why waist the turns riding a pig? Go light fast and nimble. A 600cc naked bike is a good call… upright position means you can enjoy the views more easily too. We did no freeway so having a windscreen was of little value.
- Take your time, enjoy the view – we did 2200 kms in 6 days which over this kind of terrain meant minimum of 8 – 10 hours of riding a day with only a one hour lunch stop. I would recommend doing half the distance in the same time, more to see and take some time off the bike to look around, hike, eat more, drink more….relax.
- Take lots of pictures – obvious
- Go with a friend(s) – the more the merrier. Solo you will meet lots of folks too and everyone is very friendly but it is so nice to sit at the end of the day and relive the days’ ride. Besides you need someone to pay for the beer.
- Plan your route but be flexible – definitely have an idea of where you would like to go each day but be prepared to adjust depending upon weather, type of road you enjoy, speed of your group…whatever. There are so many options and all are good. The southern Alps are great because they are far less busy than the Dolomites or the Northern Alps throughout. They are that much farther to go for all the Northern Europeans and as such they tend to stick to closer ranges. The weather is generally better as well…drier and warmer.
– Written by Jayson Faulkner